Search continues for downed aircraft, pilot missing
THE search is continuing this morning for a light airplane believed to have crashed into dense bushland near Limpinwood, west of Murwillumbah.
A 72-year-old experienced pilot is the only occupant in the green-coloured light plane, which was reported missing around 2pm yesterday after it failed to return to the Murwillumbah airstrip.
The pilot is believed to be Ian Sinnott, an experienced commercial pilot who took off from Bob Whittle Memorial Airfield at about 10am yesterday.
But roughly an hour after leaving, a friend became concerned and contacted authorities, prompting an extensive search by emergency services.
Today three helicopters are helping in the search for Mr Sinnott as authorities scour a 14km by 6 km zone in bushland west of Murwillumbah.
A Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter spokesman said the service, along with Queensland's Rescue 500 chopper would continue the search this morning after night surveillance failed to locate the missing aircraft.
"(The search area) is not particularly large but it is quite dense and rugged bushland and the difficulty is with the colour of the aircraft and the colour of the bush,” the spokesman told ABC Radio.
"Certain times of day aid in searching, so early morning when there are lots of shadows, it is difficult to spot items on the ground through the tree canopy, so ideally, when the sun is at its highest point, there are reduced shadows so it makes it a little bit easier for us in the aircraft to spot someone.”
The spokesman said a witness reported a green aircraft in difficulty, flying at low level over treetops, on his property at Limpinwood, about 20km west of Murwillumbah.
A Tweed police spokesman said the pilot was the only person onboard when the plane took off about 10am on Tuesday.
Mr Sinnott's friend, Roy Sneesby, was at the airfield at south Murwillumbah yesterday moments after his mate was reported missing and said Mr Sinnott was an "accomplished pilot”.
"The fellas were concerned about the fact that he didn't come back because he was only doing a local flight,” he said.
"He's an accomplished pilot ... (he would have been flying) for at least 30 years.”
Friends said they dubbed Mr Sinnott's plane "the grasshopper” because it was bright green.
He was rumoured to have purchased the ultralight only recently.
"He'd only owned the aeroplane around two weeks,” Mr Sneesby said.
"If it went down in the bush it would be hard to see. He bought this aeroplane because it would do aerobatics.
"If he tried something violent or something he could have blacked out ... we're only guessing.”
Mr Sneesby said he thought Mr Sinnott flew "748s” for a parcel delivery company based out of Brisbane.
"He was a commercial pilot ... he flies big aeroplanes, parcel delivery at nights,” he said.
"He used to fly out of Brisbane I think.”
Contacts of Mr Sinnott's said his family was distressed after hearing of his disappearance yesterday.
A flying instructor who left Bob Whittle Memorial Airfield moments before Mr Sinnott yesterday said he too was shocked to discover the experienced pilot had gone missing.
"It's obviously very distressing,” he said.
"He had taken off behind me yesterday. I was doing training ... I don't know where he was going.”